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Have a look at this.
It's not so good, actually. Can you believe that it took the artist TEN years of constant drawing practice until she was able to draw this?

I believe it, because I'm the one who drew it. I was eleven years old, and had been drawing all my life because it was fun. Because it was an improvement compared to what I drew at age seven, I used to believe that improvement would magically come by itself if one just kept drawing from their imagination, and doing nothing else. New forms and understandings of anatomy would coincidentally happen to come, little by little. Hadn't it been like that for all those years? From my drawings I could see that I didn't know how to draw an arm correctly, but I believed that if I would draw the arm over and over again from my imagination, the arm would suddenly look better at some point because I had invented a new way to draw it.

Needless to say that improvement is painfully slow when you draw from your imagination exclusively. I met an artist who complained that she didn't improve despite practicing for five years every day; and it turned out that she had drawn from imagination only.

The artist can "know" only so much in their imagination. In order to be able to draw, they have to look at things. You need to draw that arm by looking at an actual figure in front of you. Or a photo. Or a good painting.

I started "copying" when I was thirteen. I made tons and tons of drawings after old master paintings. I attended two figure drawing classes. I copied from my favorite mangaka. I copied tons and tons of photographs in fashion magazines. And suddenly, the improvement didn't come every five years or so, but every year.

Need I say more? Of course, constant life drawing and copying will add tons of new words to your artistic vocabulary, but the human imagination will always stay limited. Take Andrew Loomis and Burne Hogarth, for example. They have drawn so much from life, studied human anatomy for so long, and they are able to draw anatomically perfect figures from their mind. Yet those figures look generic. They are built from the same vocabulary; one instantly thinks "Loomis" or "Hogarth" when they see them. That's why Loomis still used reference for his advertisement paintings and advised the use of it in his books.

Harold Speed in his 1917 book "Drawing Techniques and Materials" expresses the phenomenon like this:

"Try and draw some cumulus clouds from imagination, several groups of them across a sky, and you will find how often again you have repeated unconsciously the same forms. How tired one gets of the pet cloud or tree of a painter who does not often consult nature in his pictures. Nature is the great storehouse of variety; even a piece of coal will suggest more interesting rock-forms than you can invent." (p. 186)

That's the true reason to use reference, I think. Reference isn't a crutch, it's your source for variety. If you like to paint in a realistic style, you can give your paintings a touch of the same variety and uniqueness that nature has, if you reference from nature herself and/or reference photographs.
  • Mood: Pain
  • Eating: Berliner Brot
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RayOfLightUnite Featured By Owner 2 days ago  Student Artist
Thanks a million!
I startwd to look at poses/references last year, and in the back of my head I kept questioning myself "is this working?" And until this day, now I've learned that getting inspired by 'cheating' is the right way!
Thank you so much!
Furthermore; i had been improving ever since I had been looking at anime references back last year, I felt scared if I drawn on my own would I ever draw the same way as I do when 'cheating'
But, thank you for sharing! Now I know!
helleboress Featured By Owner Jul 29, 2015  Student Traditional Artist
Thank you so much for posting this! I have been feeling incredibly negative about my artwork lately and it pretty much had to do with this topic. For the longest time I thought I was cheating for using references and poses from magazines when I was trying to learn more and get whatever I had imagined in a more realistic setting. Thank you again!
MelReinH Featured By Owner May 7, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Thanks for the entry! I'm having a hard time using "references" because I thought the same way you did. Reading this will (hopefully) motivate me to actually look at the world. :P
lightbleueyes Featured By Owner Feb 17, 2014  Student General Artist
I don't think imagination is very limited. I find it very fun to explore! ^^
Zombiekinz Featured By Owner Oct 29, 2013  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Thank you for this! I come into contact with issues regarding poses and im so glad its not considered "cheating"
i was always bothered cause i kinda felt like using references is wrong...
but im glad its not!
Deitsuh Featured By Owner Jul 19, 2013  Hobbyist Digital Artist
:iconclapplz: These are true words.
DalailamaNYF Featured By Owner Mar 13, 2013  Student
I recently started to draw from references and found that there was quite a huge improvement when it came to drawing from my imagination. I'm the same, I didn't improve much over the years until I started to copy draw from life.

Naked models work wonders. ;)
evannablackthorn Featured By Owner Jul 16, 2012  Student Traditional Artist
Thank you for this. I use references a lot and after reading some peoples opinions of references and how bad they are, I felt discouraged. Its nice to know those opinions not the truth. :)
xEternalSkyx Featured By Owner Jul 2, 2012  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
*Goes off to find a stack of manga to copy...
Crimsonberry Featured By Owner Jun 19, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
I am trying to get over the whole 'cheating' thing. Sigh. But really, really great advice! :)
LilayM Featured By Owner May 8, 2012  Student Filmographer
You just ruined everything for me. Hope you're happy.

But yeah, for many years reference was just a kind of cheating for me. Probably the reason I couldn't improve as fast as I wanted to. Not the only one, but, yeeeaah...
MbK14 Featured By Owner Feb 9, 2012  Professional General Artist
well said!!!

ELK64 Featured By Owner Sep 24, 2011  Hobbyist General Artist
Interesting journal. Maybe you should add "how" to look at referance. You can start drawing only copying, but after a point, it isn't enough to improv and "know" how to draw. You have to start to study what you're copying in a very more scientifical/observation processus.

Reference should be a library of knowledge, study and inspiration, but not a simple stock of image, pose, color etc. you just use without trying to understand the logic under the image. (and understand the nature it-self !).

This is only my thought, but I think it's an important step for starting improvement ><; It's not only looking at the reference, but to understand what you're looking at. And what exactly you're looking at.
turq-dorian Featured By Owner Mar 25, 2011  Professional Writer
I have honestly never thought of it like that. It makes me want to draw from references - and I've always HATED using references. Thank you for posting this. ^^
phridoleenus Featured By Owner Jun 8, 2010  Student Digital Artist
I found this while I was randomly googling.

Thank you. :heart:
AliceSacco Featured By Owner Jul 2, 2009
So true!
i am studiyng drawing and i am at the start, but i have understood a lot of things, and despite my face blindness, maybe this method that you have wrote will allow me to draw different faces. i still to pratice and i will pratice forever.
I want to fave this article!!!
harvest-jacobina Featured By Owner Jun 25, 2009
Well said.

Many people think that using a reference is tracing. I beg to disagree to that, because referencing just means you're looking at a pose or an image to guide you; you're not supposed to imitate it 100%.

Some also interchange the meaning of "tracing" and "referencing", much to my dismay. D|
me9a7 Featured By Owner Jan 25, 2009  Hobbyist Digital Artist
i might be wrong about a few things before but:

i had a talk with a friend about stylings in comics|manga where exegeration is applied to enhance the drawings to a certain extent, but still retaining the proper anatomy. so i was saying that these "stylings" or exegerations are only extra bits that you actually gained from years of drawing from real life (or reference). so one who draws by imitating stylings of manga would still need a real life drawing for "proper" anatomy, cause if its copied without the basic knowledge of anatomy, you might draw it wrong with the "correct" anatomy in mind based on the stylings. uhm sorry do i make sense so far? :lol:

so my point was that, any styles, either realistic, comics/cartoony, charicature, 3d and what nots have to be from mother nature it self as a starting point, if we draw from imagination only and based on other stylings, we may not really teaching ourselves the true way of, drawing.
so am i right? or dead wrong here? :lol: really just wanted your opinion after reading your article here. which i totally agree btw :nod:
MangaWhispers Featured By Owner Mar 25, 2011  Student Digital Artist
I agree with what yours saying, my art teacher told me draw from life now and get that down, then when I can do that I will be able to exaggerate or stylize in a way that looks intentional rather than from lack of ability. :la: And drawing from life means somewhere down the road I'm going to have to use a reference :) and like the journal says that's not necessarily a bad thing.
me9a7 Featured By Owner Mar 25, 2011  Hobbyist Digital Artist
yup reference FTW! :lol:
MangaWhispers Featured By Owner Mar 26, 2011  Student Digital Artist
OffTheChain2 Featured By Owner Dec 4, 2008  Hobbyist Digital Artist
and here i thought i was crazy, but reading your journal made me more confident :heart:
KristinaGehrmann Featured By Owner Dec 4, 2008  Professional Digital Artist
That's nice :D :heart:
Death-by-Papercuts Featured By Owner Aug 9, 2008
Oh wow O.O
I never thought of it that way...I always saw it as 'cheating'...
However i find i dont need to improvements in drawing are not great but i dont believe you have to sit and copy a picture...
I dont completely agree with you but great angle, you really have made me think.
crazycha Featured By Owner Jul 1, 2008  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
i used to paint landscape based on photo..because i have no time to go out and sit with nature. so what i always do is browse for some interesting photo and paint it okay or not?
KristinaGehrmann Featured By Owner Jul 1, 2008  Professional Digital Artist
Copying photos for practice will help you learning how to see. But whether you publish/show around/upload your practice, it's your decision. If you're gonna upload exact copies of someone else's work online, make sure to ask for their permission.
Personally, I have online galleries (like the one at dA) for my own stuff, and sketchbooks at conceptart or Pixelbrush where I post sketches and studies from life, photos and old master art.
crazycha Featured By Owner Jul 3, 2008  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
ofcourse i ask for their permission. thanks for the advice.
KetsuoTategami Featured By Owner Jun 30, 2008  Hobbyist Digital Artist
This is so true, thanks for writing this
MonicaMarinho Featured By Owner Jun 30, 2008  Professional Digital Artist
I totally agree!! (omg, this is here since Dec of last year and I'm only reading it now because of your News Article :ohmygod: )

I also thought for a long time that 'copying' was cheating. Tk god I changed that way of thought a few years ago and started using references and as you say, I saw improvement appear more quickly than before. Take a look at one of the first ';paintings' I did on the PC: [link] :rofl: I still keep this to laugh at it. Despite my absense of 'know-how' in digital painting, I clearly lacked the anatomy skills. Now I still feel I need to improve those, but not so much as at that time, though. :lol:

Great topic! :wave:
KristinaGehrmann Featured By Owner Jun 30, 2008  Professional Digital Artist
Thank you :D

I still copy a lot :) It's a fantastic practice, and life drawing aka "copying directly from nature" teaches one so much.
MonicaMarinho Featured By Owner Jun 30, 2008  Professional Digital Artist
Yup, I always use references, at least for the poses. And we find such great resources here at DA :flirty:
vitalia Featured By Owner Dec 28, 2007
That was the most incredible journal I have read here. (I'd favorite if I could!)

Every letter you wrote is completely true. I'm recently discovering how important references are, and how you can interpret them!

Thanks so much for posting that! It was very encouraging for someone new, like myself. :hug:
elendar2007 Featured By Owner Dec 14, 2007
Your journal was very interesting for me to read. Although I already knew that using references is a quite essential and natural part of art (not only in painting I think) it was great to read your detailed and well thought explanations on that matter.
Some people seem to have a strange view on this; they consider an artist to be a kind of genuis who has a photographically detailed memorization, that serves as the only reference he needs for arbitrary subjects. I got to know this attitude when I read about what had happened to Enayla.
Using references is not cheating, it is crucial for the creation of art. Even if you were able to draw with nothing than your memory you would refer to the things you have seen, paintings or reality, so why not having a photo to look at during painting?
Of course the doubts of traditional artists when looking at digital art might be partially caused by a lack of knowledge abuot the "new" technique used to make it. They don´t know that the computer is nothing more than a tool, like pencil and canvas, and that it won´t create art by pressing some button. But these doubts will surely vanish, when those techniques get more and more common. And all the others will have to realize that it is impossible to create true art by cheating.
Thank you very much for the time and afford you spent on sharing your knowledge and experiences here. It is a pleasure to learn from skilled and educated people like you.
Lacelette Featured By Owner Dec 13, 2007
Unlike most of the people who commented here, I have to say that you are only partially correct. Although, I don't know why most people think that using a reference is bad, heck, I never even realized that people thought using a reference is bad! But I believe that it isn't counted as 'cheating' or shows that you lack in skill, I agree on you with that.

But...I believe that a person's imagination can be limitless if they want them to. My proof for this statement are the existence of abstract artists here and then. And I've seen way too many abstract art to believe that imagination has its limit. Haha, and I don't think there's any reference to be used for abstract art. =D Furthermore, I quote from Pablo Picasso himself "I paint objects as I think them, not as I see them." This may as well mean for drawing too.

Like I've told you before, I rarely use reference when I draw. Usually, when I draw, I have a certain goal like all of you when you sit on your table with your pencil and paper. And I just think of what I want to draw using what I already learn basically about body parts. I use my the basic knowledge that I already know and use it to create the character, position and and background to my liking. Its really that simple if you have a clear mind and goal of what you wanna draw.

Listening to different genre of music also help since it gets you into the feeling and even give you idea on what to draw. You don't need to prepare any photograph every time you need to draw. You just...well, enjoy the beauty of life, look at them and when you close yours eyes you just...well, you see them, you know what I mean? :floating: And as you grow, your mind develops along too. I believe it as that. You can progress through experience and practice and you'll find that you'll be able to think clearer and you might even have a steadier hand to draw. It comes with practice.

But imagination doesn't have any limits if you have a clear mind and goal. Inspiration is also another way to drive you to improve yourself. When you grow, the music that you like, your point of view, everything changes, you change, your style change, and its possible that your skills could also change for the better. I think thats how we improve. At least, thats how I believe I'd improve.

Your imagination is the heart of your drawing and your hand is the portal to open the way and let it loose on your paper. Drawing without imagination is like painting on a framed canvas. Your ability to create will always Reference will always be a reference, its only a guide to help you get the basic idea on what you want to draw. Well, I think I'm done now...:nieman:
KristinaGehrmann Featured By Owner Dec 14, 2007  Professional Digital Artist
You are right, it all depends on what you want to achieve. :)
Lacelette Featured By Owner Dec 14, 2007
What? No debate on it? Oh fine. Lolz, =D You're quite passive aren't you? :giggle:
KristinaGehrmann Featured By Owner Dec 14, 2007  Professional Digital Artist
XD Actually I'm not very passive, but you talked about abstract art among other things... and for abstract art you don't necessarily need a life model, because you're not aiming for realism. All you need is your experience with colors, shapes, composition, etc. if you want to make it visually strong. But even then, inspiration can help the unlimited imagination ;)

I use reference in order to avoid making my figures and objects look generic. In my work, I want on the one hand a variety and diversity like the one in nature so that my figures don't get boring to me; on the other hand, I want to make it my very own, original product. That's not always easy, but I'm doing my best =D
Lacelette Featured By Owner Dec 14, 2007
Ahaha, I'm just poking you around about the passive thing. :poke: Yes, I did. But only after I realized that you were talking about life drawing. XP As I was looking at your title and it was "Imagination is Limited" I thought you were referring to almost all part of art. And when I look at that drawing on your journal and you were talking about drawing, I thought it was about drawing cartoons or anime-ish drawings. Not, realism.

Haha, forgive me for the misunderstanding. :giggle: But using a reference for drawing realism figures and objects are just normal. But still, imagination is not limited for drawing something realistic too.

In my work, I want on the one hand a variety and diversity like the one in nature so that my figures don't get boring to me; on the other hand, I want to make it my very own, original product. That's not always easy, but I'm doing my best =D

That sounds hard to do but I think you'll find a way to to it. Just don't give up along the way. But knowing that you won't, just be patient and try out various types of styles and sceneries and see if you could blend them in your own product. The trick is that you must try everything you could get your hands on. I wish you the best of luck for that. :boogie:
KristinaGehrmann Featured By Owner Dec 15, 2007  Professional Digital Artist
>>I wish you the best of luck for that.

Thanks :D I wish you the best of luck for everything too.
Rita-Ria Featured By Owner Dec 10, 2007  Professional Traditional Artist
AMEN dazu!
chelsea-dawn Featured By Owner Dec 10, 2007  Student Photographer
Hey thanks so much this really ties in well with my forum - thankyou for the comment it will really help me! Thankyou thankyou thankyou!!!!!!
KristinaGehrmann Featured By Owner Dec 11, 2007  Professional Digital Artist
No problem :)
Hennauoti Featured By Owner Dec 10, 2007
I could not help noticing your coversation with Bente. Too bad it was in german (my knowledge in german language is very poor). I'm also a student in academic art school and this is a subject that I have personally found really interesting.
KristinaGehrmann Featured By Owner Dec 10, 2007  Professional Digital Artist
Sorry about that being in German ^^; We basically talked about the use of references and that many people see it as a form of cheating especially in digital art, while traditional media painters use a model and/or draw/paint from life. I also said that I find it impossible to cheat in art (maybe I'm gonna write a journal about that too); and then it was all about art schools =D
My biggest wish is to attend an academic art school, but those true "academic" ones are really rare in Germany :/ I want to paint and draw from life as much as I can, because I feel that's the only thing that'll help me move forward, so I need to find an art school that focuses on this. Those I've found and researched on were quite expensive, but that's what scholarships are for ;) Well, I'll just do my best! ^_^ I envy you quite a little that you are an art student already and that you can devote yourself to art so much. But then, that's probably the best you can do, ever :)
Hennauoti Featured By Owner Dec 10, 2007
When people complain about references I think it is only their lack of experience talking. In academic art schools we do nothing but paint from reference. Having studied art history I know history is full of reference users while there is only tiny bunch of those who did not use any (and the works that aren’t based on live references are almost always really bad). I think if more people in digital industry would have received academic training, the general opinion about referencing would be totally different.

I wish you luck with your studies. It is crazy how much your life changes after you get in to art school. You find yourself thinking art all the time, and soon you realise you have no other life!

Hennauoti Featured By Owner Dec 10, 2007
Amen to that!
ruberboy Featured By Owner Dec 8, 2007  Hobbyist Digital Artist
good writing.
As far as I know, human brain can not conserve details in memory for long times (some seconds maybe?). Our brain is not as good storing data as we think it is. Experiments have shown its more like a chaotic movie, so Its a bad idea to believe we can remember all the details.

If you take two extremely talented artists, give them a pencil, and let them draw something, one with all the reference needed at his disposal, the other from his mind without ref. Who do you think will win?

The only problem I have is when I need an strange angle(lets say, a tiger jumping to the front and spinning a bit at the same time) and I have to make a collage/composite of pieces to get exactly the pose I want. For me, referencing is a must.
Solstitialis Featured By Owner Dec 7, 2007  Student
ich finds immer interessant, dass bei digitalen werken immer sofort die frage "did you use references"? kommt, bei traditionellen aber eigentlich fast nie. da könnte ich ausrasten. im übrigen muss ich sagen, dass ich es NICHT schlimm finde, wenn jemand nicht erwähnt, dass er referenzen verwendet (mein gott, hast du mal gesehen, wieviele das nicht tun? und ich rede jetzt nicht von digitalen künstlern). ich meine, man muss sich als künstler ja nicht ständig rechtfertigen oder? in letzter zeit wird der ganze kram echt nervig, besonders in diesen ganzen online art communities. versteh mich nicht falsch, ich würde es nur nicht gut finden, wenn ich einen künstler fragen würde ob er referenzen verwendet und er würde verneinen obwohl es er doch tut.
aber wie gesagt, mich interessiert herzlich wenig ob jemand referenzen verwendet oder nicht, mich interessiert einzig und allein das ergebnis.
was man produziert zählt und nicht WIE man es produziert und DAS war schon immer so.

und um die menschliche anatomie perfekt hinzukriegen brauch man jahre, viele viele jahre....eigentlich sollte man dazu auch schon mindestens 2 mal in der woche zum aktzeichnen gehen, man verlernt einfach wieder zu schnell.
im übrigens kann man sich ja auch beruhigen, selbst die alten künstler hatten probleme mit der anatomie, wie man auf vielen gemälden sehen kann. wieso also nicht eine referenz verwenden, wenn man kann?
naja, wollte das nur mal los werden, weil es mich einfach ärgert wie hirnlos einige leute sind. ich denke aber, die die wirklich ernsthaft künstler sein wollen, die für die für die zeichnen/malen und gestalten einfach zum lebensinhalt gehören, die werden einen nicht deswegen verurteilen und einen gleich drei stufen der genialität aberkennen nur weil man referenzen verwendet.
ich hab jedenfalls festgestellt, dass es meistens komplette idioten sind, die keine ahnung davon haben beziehungsweise einfach nur neidisch sind (ich werde da jetzt keine namen nennen).
KristinaGehrmann Featured By Owner Dec 8, 2007  Professional Digital Artist
sehr wahr! :/
man sollte sich nicht ständig dafür rechtfertigen müssen, dass man referenzen verwendet... irgendwann kommt noch der tag, da wird das als selbstverständlich angesehen werden (hoffe ich)

>>was man produziert zählt und nicht WIE man es produziert und DAS war schon immer so.

exakt! ich bin davon überzeugt, dass man in der kunst nicht "mogeln" kann. es ist einfach unmöglich - ein bild wird immer verraten, wieviel erfahrung sein macher hatte. selbst wenn du dein urlaubsfoto durch den "helligkeit interpolieren"-filter jagst und sagst, es wär gemalt, wird es dadurch ein gutes, überzeugendes bild? wohl eher nicht... außer, du hast extrem viel erfahrung und können, was die voraussetzung für ein gutes, überzeugendes bild ist. da führt kein weg drumrum, egal mit welchen techniken man arbeitet.

vielleicht mach ich da auch mal ein journal drüber :D das brennt mir so unter den fingernägeln. xD

studierst du eigentlich an einer kunstakademie in hamburg?
(ich will nach dem abitur malerei studieren, und zwar an einem ort, wo man etwas lernt, was in deutschland eher nicht selbstverstädnlich zu sein scheint :/ ich möchte einfach nur besser werden und viel nach der natur malen/zeichnen.)
Solstitialis Featured By Owner Dec 8, 2007  Student
Yipp ich studiere an einer Akademie. Muss allerdings sagen, dass ich mich viele Monate bevor ich überhaupt mit dem Abi fertig war schon über diverse private und staatliche Schulen informiert habe, bin hingefahren, hab mit Studenten geredet, hab mich im Internet informiert (es gibt ein super Forum für Designstudenten und Anwärter-->> [link] - kann ich dir nur wärmstens ans Herz legen, man kann dort seine Bilder zeigen bzw. sich Anregungen holen und sich über die Schulen informieren).
Nach dem Abi hab ich dann erstmal ein Praktikum in einer Werbeagentur gemacht (die mich danach gleich als Mitarbeiter übernommen hat, sodass ich dort nebenbei arbeiten kann)und mich nebenbei beworben und ein halbes Jahr später hatte ich dann sozusagen freie Wahl was meine Unis/Fhs angeht und konnte mir genau überlegen, WAS ich will.
Malerei ist geht ja eher in die Richtung freie Kunst. hast du dich schonmal über irgendwelche Unis bzw. Fhs informiert oder willst du an eine private Schule gehen?
Falls du Fragen hast oder so, kannst du dich gerne an mich wenden...hab das ja alles schon durchgemacht ;)
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